Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LIONS &TIGERS AND...BEES? School Mascots on the First Coast Run the Gamut, but What's Really in a Name?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LIONS &TIGERS AND...BEES? School Mascots on the First Coast Run the Gamut, but What's Really in a Name?

Article excerpt


Don't mess with the manatees.

Sure, the marine mammals have no natural enemies and no way to defend themselves. But they are fiercely protected by thousands of kids at the half dozen elementary schools that claim the mild-mannered manatee as a mascot.

Northeast Florida's school mascots range from the ultra-mundane to the rather unusual to the borderline offensive, but opportunities abound as Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties open a bumper crop of new schools in the next few years.

About one in 10 schools in the five-county region use the eagle as a mascot. The eagle is so popular, in fact, that two public high schools in Duval County sport an eagle mascot (Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology and Paxon School for Advanced Studies).

It's easy to understand the appeal of the eagle. They soar, an inspirational metaphor favored by athletes and academics alike, and they are a patriotic symbol.

The eagle is not likely to spark the kind of furor that has erupted over human-based mascots, either.

Most recently, there has been some debate over naming Nathan B. Forrest High School after a former slave trader, Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan. The mascot at the school is the Rebels.

There has been nationwide outcry about teams represented by caricatures of American Indians. But locally, it is one of the most popular, and there have been no concerted efforts at individual schools to change.

At middle school "FF" in St. Johns County, suggestions flowed in this month for the school's name and mascot. The top three from a parent ballot will be announced Monday and given to the School Board for a vote April 10, said Pam Durham, the school's secretary.

She and Principal Sue Sparkman looked at the mascots for each school in the county and hope to have something unique when the school opens in August.

Nominations ranged from gophers to turtles to snakes.

"It's exciting to see what they came up with," Durham said.

When schools have a long history, the story behind a mascot's creation may lie buried in past decades. Ortega Elementary's Ocelots were likely alliterative in origin, teachers speculate. The school opened in 1926, so no one is really sure.

At Lake Asbury Elementary, there's no question where the school mascots come from: They are born in the school yard. The tribe of goats, cared for in rotations by each class, keeps the lawn trimmed and the kids loyal.

Technically, the school's mascot is a ram, said Susan Hendry, Lake Asbury's music teacher and goat herder-in-chief. But as a former sheep owner, Hendry knew docile goats would be a better choice for schoolchildren.

Still, when it comes to using animals, some species have more prestige than others.

There is a romp of otters around here - the animal is sported by three schools in the region - but no known badgers or beavers. …

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